City views, imperial visions : cartography and the visual culture of urban space in the Ottoman empire, 1453-1603

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Date

2002-08

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Ebel, Kathryn Ann

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Abstract

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, city views and topographic miniature paintings became a distinctive feature of luxury manuscript illustration in the Ottoman Empire. These images were part of an architectural vision of the Empire’s cites – a vision that was cultivated among the ruling class in Istanbul through the production and circulation of maps, views, architectural plans, illustrated histories of the Empire, travel accounts, and even love poetry addressed to the great Ottoman cities and their architectural landmarks. Ottoman city views were inspired by utilitarian documents like siege plans, architectural drawings, and nautical charts, as well as by the more rarefied and poetic representational conventions of Persian miniature painting. City views were therefore situated at the intersection of, on the one hand, the practical realities of Ottoman military expansion and urban construction and, on the other, an idealized image of the Ottoman city as a microcosm of the Ottoman state – and ultimately, like the state, as an expression of the order of the cosmos. City views not only reflected the visual culture of urban space in the Ottoman Empire, however. They also helped to produce it, since the same literate, cosmopolitan elite who commissioned, authored, and circulated city views also founded, designed and financed major urban construction all over the Ottoman Empire, from Istanbul to Sarajevo, Budapest, Jerusalem, Mecca, and Cairo. Images of the city permeated both the practice of Ottoman imperialism (as with the siege plans used in conquest and the architectural drawings that transformed the landscapes of Ottoman cities) and the idealized representations of the Ottoman imperial venture found in illustrated histories of the Empire. This last group of images, in particular, demands closer examination: Long viewed as an idiosyncrasy in the history of Ottoman painting, or as uncomprehending mimicry of contemporary European perspectival city views, these images articulate the territorial embodiment of the sixteenth-century Ottoman state and the spatiality of its power in a way that modern maps cannot. Taken together, Ottoman city views present a cartographic vision of one of the great pre-modern world empires at the height of its power.

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